A New Take on Work-Life Balance

work life balance

The curse of the 21st century is that we spend our time trying to succeed in everything at once – work, our significant relationship, family, exercise, friendships, keeping the perfect house, the perfect garden…

No matter how hard I try I never succeed at everything. If I work hard I don’t have time to walk my dog. Go out with friends? I need to clean the house.  Create some art? It never happens. Is this exhausting perfectionism really what is meant by a work-life balance? Can we really do it all?

When I am busy at work I just don’t have the head space or emotional energy to cope with doing anything else. If I put more effort into my personal life I find being at work such a bore. I want to be out doing all those fun things that matter to me personally, not being stuck at work. Instead of neatly balanced, my work-life scales are swinging wildly.

One day I read over my journal entries for the past 6 months. I was horrified to read that the first thing I wrote every single day was, “I’m tired”. I realized the toll that trying to do it all was having on me: I was exhausted, boring and definitely not succeeding at anything. I decided there had to be a better way. After some trial and error my scales have settled into more of a gentle sway.

1. Balance Your Month, Not Your Day

There really aren’t enough hours in the day for everything, but perhaps you can balance your work and life if you widen your timeframe. Think about all the things that are important to you and how many hours you work each day. Can you really do it all? If I took the work-life balance literally then I’d have to call my sister and my Mum, go to lunch with my best friend, exercise, draw, sew, garden, walk my dog, spend quality time with my husband, work 7 hours, commute for 2, cook and meditate all in one day. No wonder I’m tired!

It’s simply not possible to do it all and I fail at everything if I try. So now I try to achieve balance over a month and I try to be flexible. Basically I cut myself some slack. At times when work is really frantic I bump some items off my to do list and allow myself to spend the evenings relaxing, maybe read a little or soak in a bath.  When work eases off then I have the energy to go out, to create and give to others.

2. Make Conscious Choices

If you are going to take a longer-term view of balance you need to be consciously aware of what’s happening in your life.  Accepting that work is frantic at the moment is great, as long as you notice when you can ease off.  Working long hours can be seductive and you can easily fall into a pattern of always being busy and never taking time for your life. I used to work through lunch every day and take work home every weekend because I felt I had to. Now I’ll occasionally put in extra hours but only when I choose to.  If I know putting in more time at work this week will reward me with a better personal life next week, then I’ll do it. It’s a conscious choice and my eye’s firmly on the prize: more quality time for me away from work.

Take a few minutes to make a list of what’s most important to you. This will help you decide what can wait and what can’t.  Dividing your goals into long and short term can really help too. I want to defrost my freezer, but work’s frantic and I’d rather wind down by going for a walk with my husband and dog. Most importantly though be kind to yourself and balance what’s best for you today and tomorrow. Then you really can have it all.

How do you balance your work and your life? Please share your experiences and suggestions in the comments below.

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20 thoughts on “A New Take on Work-Life Balance”

  1. One of the things I practice is using my MITs, I make sure I have 2 MITs for work related stuff and 2 for personal stuff each day. At weekends I have a to-do list which is entirely personal stuff, this balances all the things that I do in work through the week. It works for me (mostly). But I also find that I have to balance personal stuff so that I am spending quality time with family as well as my other interests. Perhaps the whole idea of work/life balance could be extended to a more general lifestyle balance which encompasses everything we do as individuals. What do you think?

  2. My take on work/life balance: Work/life balance is for people who don’t enjoy the part of their life they’re calling “work.” If you don’t enjoy your work or your work doesn’t allow you to be able to be the person you want to be, then sure, make sure that you balance that out with creating space where you do do what you love, and are able to be the person you want to be. But why would you want to balance “work” with “life” if your work is fun, creative, fulfilled, enables you to connect deeply with wonderful people, and allows you to do all the things you’d choose to do anyway, if you didn’t need the money?

    Tim Ferris talks about a four hour work week, but he actually works really long and hard at doing the things he loves (learning languages/ dancing/ swimming, writing, etc) – he’s just not calling that work. Maybe work/life balance is just a matter of semantics…

    1. @CathD,

      I respectfully disagree. I think that the key element of the phrase ‘work-life balance’ is ‘balance’. I love my work: it stimulates me, it’s fun, allows me to be creative. I can do it anywhere. It’s underpaid, but I don’t do it for the money but for love – it’s a calling I have. I’m doing what I’m meant to be doing with my life. However, that’s not to say that balance isn’t important. It’s not good to work all of the time, no matter how much you love your work. Rest is important, being social is important, keeping in touch with family and friends is important. It’s not good to put all your eggs in one basket. If my work is my life, what on earth would I do when I retire? It’s good to be rounded.

      Something you raise is our conception of ‘work’. I agree that we also work at things in our personal lives (e.g. Tim Ferris working on his language skills), but the issue is balance between our activities, balance in how we spend our time. This is important regardless of whether we work for free for the love of the job, or whether we work in a job we hate just to pay the bills. Balance is always important.

  3. I think the whole concept of work/life balance just makes us feel guilty – like you said, it’s impossible to succeed when you try to do everything. The way I see it is this: growth and expansion in any area of my life leads to growth and expansion in every other life area! We can’t compartmentalize ourselves – after all, we are whole beings.

    So if I want to focus on work and have fun growing and learning there – so be it. I’m not going to feel guilty because I haven’t called a single friend all weekend. And if I want to go and lie on a beach in Mexico and not work at all (which is what I have planned for the next three days, btw), then I’ll do that, too!

    Imagine a perfectly balanced pendulum. It sits still. There’s no movement in perfect balance.

    Blessings,
    Andrea

  4. I think that everyone redundantly tries to get to much done in to little time. We all need to take a moment to really prioritize our lives. The reality is that we will never be able to do everything, so lets just focus on what is important. Living a frantic work all day every day lifestyle is not really living.

    -Dan Malone-

  5. great article. I was always taught that balance does not mean equal. That our work/ leisure life does’nt always have to be perfectly divided up.

    I also believe once you determine your true core values everything flows. If you can establish your “means” values and your “ends” values you can live a value based life and have the time to fit in everything that the most important to you.

    Cheers,
    Ryan

  6. Even when you work for yourself, work-life balance can be hard to achieve. Slightly easier, but still very difficult! For me, work is enjoyable so that covers my “me” time pretty well, but it’s a matter of making myself stop working to plug in family time, gardening time, exercise, friend time, etc.

  7. I love this article, it sums up what I’ve been trying to do for the past few months. I was trying to do everything for awhile – wake up early, go to the gym before work, pack nutritious meals for our lunches, walk the dogs, work on my novel for a few hours, do a load of washing, see family, talk to friends on the phone, blog, create art, cook a beautiful evening meal and get to bed in time to repeat the whole process. Yeah, it didn’t take long for me to get completely overwhelmed and drop everything to sit on the couch eating chocolate every night!
    Now I’m in “extreme project” mode. It seems to work better for me, especially as it allows for deeper and more uninterrupted focus. This week the house is messy, the dogs are cranky and I’ve been feeding myself and boyfriend pasta with a jar of heated sauce, or eggson toast. I got so much done on my screenplay this week!

  8. Hi Jodie, you’ve touched on a perennially challenging topic. I think your best advice was to balance the month, not the day. I think I try to balance the week too.

  9. @CathD @Geri
    I support CathD’s idea that Work -life balance exactly means that we differentiate our life and work. Article itself say the truth – Be realistic. Don’t expect much from your single day. As said Gari better to choose few than end up the day with nothing.
    I also suggest followers to spend some time on time management trainng from Randy Pausch (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oTugjssqOT0) and read Robin Sharma’s ideas re 8 forms of wealth. I can share more upon request :)

  10. Hi good post .. I too like the idea of balancing my month .. I don’t work as such .. but need to be ‘with it’ & positive for my dying mother .. so I can give her good input .. & therefore the emotional strain comes into play (it’s been going on for 2+ years now) .. I do keep space for me – I’ll definitely see if I can balance my month better .. good idea – thanks – Hilary:Be Positive Be Happy

  11. Hi Jodie,

    In order to have work life balance, we need to ensure that our work does not overwhelm us and creep into our time meant for other activities for our family and leisure. I accomplish it by doing weekly planning for work, leisure and family.

    Cheers
    Vincent
    Personal Development Blogger

  12. One thing that has helped me is giving up on perfection and learning to say “no.” I always enjoyed my work and personal activities, but found my plans getting derailed at one time in my life by trying to meet others’ requests and neglecting some of my own plans.

    I agree with Ryan that balance does not mean equal, therefore determining your core values and doing what flows from them will be gratifying, give joy and strike the perfect balance.

  13. Thanks for this post. What I find is that I start running into “work-life balance”-type concerns when I stop thinking about what I want out of life and start obsessing over all the things I “should” or “have to” do. When I remember that no one is creating those “shoulds” or “have tos” but me, and that I have a lot more choice than I often think, that sense of pressure subsides.

  14. The name of my business and my work are stakes in the ground for creating balance, but the funny thing is that I don’t think there’s any such thing as work-life balance. As long as we equate balance with equilibrium or having it all, or keeping all our life domains separate, we miss the point. Balance doesn’t have a set point because it’s dynamic, ever moving, even when we’re sleeping on the beach. Like Flora says, if we were to live from our values, make choices based on what’s really truly important to us, balance ceases to be an issue. It’s less about the tools and strategies, and much more about moment to moment choices.

    I think we’re after integration. Work-life integration, or even life integration. Seeking wholeness, completeness, and really, joy.

    2 cents

  15. Hi Jodie, the balance between work and life becomes my challenge, because now I am doing two works simultaneously.
    Thanks for the tips, Jodie. It is useful. :)

  16. @CathD – It’s interesting, because I can totally see your point. In fact, there is a line in The Fountainhead where Howard Roark says:

    “But you see,” said Roark quietly, “I have, let’s say, sixty years to live. Most of that time will be spent working. I’ve chosen the work I want to do. If I find no joy in it, then I’m only condemning myself to sixty years of torture. And I can find the joy only if I do my work in the best way possible to me. But the best is a matter of standards–and I set my own standards. I inherit nothing. I stand at the end of no tradition. I may, perhaps, stand at the beginning of one.”

    And I completely agree – your work should (in a perfect world) be your passion. But I also think anything in excess can be a bad thing. To paraphrase the Dalai Lama – One piece of chocolate cake is delectable, a second piece is good, but a third piece is misery. Anything taken to extremes can be bad.

    One of the biggest lessons I learned this year was that things will never be “finished”. I’ll never – no matter how hard I try – or how many hours I put in – be finished with everything at the same time. There will always be an emergency in some area of my life. There will always be something I “could” or “should” be doing. So sometimes, I just need to stop and take a moment for myself.

  17. I am an CPA so I am always asked to audit books for charities. I always say “no”. It is too much like work. But I will volunteer to serve in a soup kitchen or something like that. The point is, if it feels like work, say no

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